I am a scribbler. I love writing but, I confess, I seldom read articles or blogs about writing. Barring the usual exceptions, of course, I confess I find reading about writing tedious. I would far rather read a story than a piece on how to write a story. Just like I love food but food programmes on television generally bore me. For me, writing should come out in ready-made form, like a woman’s make up. I do not want to see her applying it in public. I am not particularly interested in the process – just in the finished product.
That is why I will keep this short.
As a writer, I have, over the years, heard large quantities of feedback on my first drafts of plays and fiction, and those of other people’s work in progress.
Here is the kind of feedback I find invaluably useful:
No. 1 Does the reader believe it?
No. 2 Is the reader confused?
No. 3 Is the reader enjoying it?
No. 4 Are there any typos or grammatical errors?
No. 5 Does the reader relate to the characters?
No. 6 Is it too long?
No. 7 Does the reader want more?
(I would argue that one could scrap the first six, and just keep this one.)
Then, there is feedback which makes me want to kick off my shoes and run around barefoot on a Cambridge College lawn, in the snow, shrieking.
No. 1 “Show, don’t tell.”
I agree but to a point. There are pages and pages of sumptuous telling in Isabel Allende and Dacia Maraini’s novels.
No. 2 “Have you read this other [famous] writer who also writes on the same subject?”
Are we encouraged to imitate other writers, now?
No.3 “I think you should have the courage to make it dark.”
I happen to think it takes courage to make it light.
No. 4 “I don’t know anything about this topic, and I’m afraid it’s not really my favourite genre, so I am really not qualified to comment. However,… [there follows an interminable and, generally, inappropriate critique.]
Just stop speaking at the end of “… not qualified to comment.” Nope. That’s all.
No. 5 “I think you should change word A for word B, and replace word X with word Y…”
So you want me to write like you, now?
No. 6 “You know, I can see your character as a woman instead of a man, and from the South instead of the North. Also, instead of a librarian, I think you should make her a secret agent…”
Er… Brilliant. Use it for your book.
No. 7 “It’s great. I love it. Instead of a novel, you could turn it into a screenplay. Also, why don’t you set the whole thing in a a different country?”
Just so we’re clear. I have made a tea mug. I am asking you if you like my mug. Yes, I am aware that I could add a spout, glue on a handle, top it with a lid, and that it would make a sweet little teapot. BUT IT’S A MUG. So please assess it as a MUG.